|Halley V and Halley VI Reliefs|
Z or Dead
Relief went on a while this year, as we had not one but two ships to unload. For both phases of the task I worked as a sea-ice driver's mate, following the loaded sledges over the sea ice in a skidoo, ready to watch and laugh should the driver ahead plunge into the ocean. After taking photos I suppose I would have thrown them a line and pulled them out before laughing a little more. The job is one of the many small tasks that create a safe route for cargo between the sea and the station. It's simple (driving a skidoo slowly, and loading cargo onto sledges), but satisfying, and I like the scenery of the ship and the shelf. The whole process works something like this:
First we have a ship sitting in the sea. This ship is full of stuff. We want to get the stuff to Halley which sits on an ice shelf about 30m above sea level. As luck, or design, would have it, at the edge of the ice shelf there are some features called creeks, where the shelf has opened up a bit and filled in with snow to form a ramp to sea level. Stuck to the edge of the ice shelf (which is formed from many years of accumulated snow) is some sea ice (frozen sea) covered with snow that fell this year and last year. This sea ice supports Sno-Cats pulling loads on sledges which weigh something like ten tonnes and, as it is many meters thick, won't crack under the additional strain.
We get stuff to the base, then, by lofting it from the ship using the ship's cranes, landing it carefully onto a sledge. This sledge is pulled up onto the ice shelf by a Sno-Cat and left at a depot. Sledges are collected from this depot by heavier vehicles which can drag three or four loads at once and taken twelve kilometers along a drumline to the base where they are unloaded onto the snow using mobile cranes. The sledges then come back empty, get filled up, get emptied, get filled up, and, well, this goes on all day for three or four days, with two teams working twelve hour shifts.
Once the Shackleton is unloaded, waste from the winter gets sent back from Halley and is loaded into the holds. All the time we're also shuttling five tonne tanks of Avtur back and forth to top up the bulk fuel storage containers at Halley. Eventually the Shackleton is done and, just when we thought it might be safe to have a day off, another ship appears. The Amderma (or MOTHERSHIP) has been specially chartered to bring in the bits of the new Halley base, imaginatively titled "Halley VI". Unloading this took a long time as there was so much stuff. Worst of all, only a couple of BAS people had been on board the Amderma, so from our vantage point on the ice all we saw was a stream of cargo appearing from her hold, with no idea of when it might all finish.
Sometimes we had to wait a while before a load was ready to come out of the hold of the Amderma, so Tom, the cadet, and I, filled the time by building a passable igloo to shelter in. Should I ever find myself in need of an emergency shelter in snowy climes I will do my utmost to have a tent with me but, should that fail, and if I have three hours to spare, I could now just about manage to create a structure that doesn't fall down straight away.
In between all this work happening Christmas day passed without really being noticed and New Year's Day crept up on us. Even though I'd just finished a long shift working outside I decided to celebrate by going ice climbing on the edge of the shelf with one of the GAs. We went out just after nine in the evening and came in as the night cargo shift were eating their lunch a bit after one. Ice climbing for me is one of those things I only enjoy once I've finished, as the process of heaving yourself up a flaky shear face is distinctly painful. Still, I think I will remember what I was doing as 2008 rolled in, and the view from the top was worth it.
The temperatures during the relief period fluctuated quite a bit, on some days the place was warm and sunny, but on others the temperature dropped and fresh ice could form on the surface of the sea. The ice first forms lose plates, then collects like leaves on a pond, and finally joins into larger rafts before being blown or floated away. Penguins swim on the still surface before leaping onto the thicker ice for a rest, and flocks of Petrels gather and swarm around the ship before dispersing along the sharp white cliffs stretching into the distance.
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